Euro 2016 Italy 2 – 0 Spain: Italian Tactical Masterclass

A great Italian tactical masterclass was in full flow at the Stade De France on Monday. Italy beat Spain 2-0 to progress into the quarter finals of Euro 2016 and gain a measure of revenge for the 4-0 humbling they received in the previous final in 2012.

Euro 2016 Italy 2 – 0 Spain: Italian Tactical Masterclass

A Tactical Bout

A match worthy of a final pitched Antonio Conte’s disciplined and hard-working Italy against Vicente Del Bosque’s Spanish passing carousel.

In a tournament which has seen the re-birth of 4-3-3, the Italian tactical plan to go with a back three – as successfully implemented against Spain by both Chile and the Netherlands at the previous World Cup in Brazil – reaped rewards. The fluidity allowed the Italian wing backs to float between attack and defence, as a result they had passing options to their midfield. This helped bypass the Spanish trio of Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. Italy effectively neutralized their main strengths of possession and dictating the tempo of the game.

During the first half, the space usually afforded to Spain was denied by the incredible efforts of Daniele De Rossi and Emanuele Giaccherini. The energy expended by the pair saw them both depart the pitch to rapturous applause during the second half as Italy sought to keep the pressure high in midfield.

Counter Attack

Opposition sides are usually too preoccupied worrying about leaving spaces in behind their midfield to press Spain, but the Italians gave a lesson in how to stifle an opponent’s passing options and deny space, whilst demonstrating what has become a trademark of Conte’s team – a lightning counter attack.

The first goal came from a mistake from the otherwise outstanding, David De Gea. What should have been a straightforward save from an Eder free kick, saw De Gea parry the ball into the centre of the six-yard box allowing Giorgio Chiellini the chance to prod home for his seventh international goal; a fully deserved half time lead for the Azzurri.

Spain Roll The Dice

Del Bosque, realising his team needed a change of tack, replaced wide-man Nolito for the might and strength of Aritz Aduriz at half time. Changing to a more effective and suitable 4-4-2 gave the Spanish fresh impetus.  It also gave the Italian defence two forwards to contend with. This limited the freedom they had previously enjoyed to play the ball out from the back.

As a result, the Italian defence dropped deeper and Spain saw more of the ball. Craftsman such as Iniesta and David Silva suddenly had more time to manipulate events and were allowed to use their range of passing to spread play left and right in search of space to create a precious equaliser.

Passion And Desire

One of the best qualities and unforeseen advantages of this Italian national side is its lack of a superstar. In the past they have always had an Alessandro Del Piero or a Roberto Baggio to call upon. However, this vintage have a great team ethic and all for one attitude. They show a remarkable hunger for hard work and application. This mix of desire plus a sprinkling of quality and tactical supremacy is worth its weight in gold.

Conte is a master of his craft and it is easy to see why Chelsea wanted him at the helm. Raw displays of passion and emotion from the side-lines continually lifted the Italian fans inside the stadium. This was especially important when it may have been easier to quietly observe and unconsciously transmit nervous tension.

As time ran out, Spain looked devoid of ideas and imagination. The usual route of passing and probing, searching for an opening to play a decisive pass was continually denied by the discipline of the great blue wall in front of them.

In added time, a breakaway attack down the Italian left saw a raking cross-field pass find its way to Matteo Darmian. He crossed the ball to Graziano Pelle to volley home; the dagger through Spanish hearts.

It was a fully deserved win for Italy. They now face Germany in what is set to be another titanic battle of wits, tactics and desire.

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